Gluck – An Open Letter to Earnie Stewart @USSoccer

Dear Earnie (Sir),  you’ve got five tasks:

  1. Lead the hiring process and serve as counsel for head coach
  2. Establish a style of play and nurturing team culture
  3. Identify short- and long-term player pool
  4. Build relationships with players, clubs and leagues
  5. Facilitate internal player development

Lead the hiring process and serve as counsel for head coach: 

You shouldn’t do 1. until you determine the style of play.

And you shouldn’t do 2. until you’ve done the other three either.

I think, in order to do 5. you need to do 4.  In order to do 3. you need to do 4. and 5.

Regardless of 2. – you need to do 3. (to build a player pool that only fits one style of play is foolish).  Which means you should do 5. separately from 2. 3. or 4.

I’m not sure much thought went into what ‘words’ were used in making this list of tasks.

It almost seems like the tasks selected were ‘first thoughts’ and not those that are polished by a focus project delivery team.

Anyhow – I defer my thoughts on who the head coach should be to the end of this article.

Establish a style of play and nurturing team culture: 

  • Establish a style of play:
    • There is only one clear answer on the style of play for our United States of America – it’s to play controlled possession-based soccer.  The facts speak for themselves.

 The greatest domestic and national teams are those that control the game through possession-based soccer.  This does not preclude playing counter-attacking or direct-attacking soccer. 

When you’re great at possession-based soccer it makes it easier to be great at counter-attacking or direct-attacking soccer.

    • To focus solely on direct-attacking or counter-attacking means you become predictable.
    • Predictability in a soccer team makes them easier to beat.

In a normal game a player can make as many as 15,000 decisions with and without the ball.

    • Anytime you give a player an extra moment or two, to control the ball and assess the field of play, the more likely they’ll be able to make a better decision; create a better opportunity {overload} to penetrate and take a shot on goal.
    • Always playing fast and minimizing on-pitch decision making opportunities makes you more predictable.
    • Predictability in a soccer team makes them easier to beat.
  • Nurture team culture:
    • As a part time cynic I’m not sure what this means compared to Task 4: Building relationship with clubs, players and teams and Task 5: Facilitate internal player development.
    • Since it’s not clear to me I’ll just offer this  – to nurture a team is to ensure everyone knows their duties and responsibilities, are held accountable for them, and rewarded when they do them well.
    • If you, as a leader, don’t reward great team play you don’t create and nurture team culture.

Identify short and long term player pool: 

This can’t (reasonably) be accomplished without establishing how player selections are determined at the very lowest levels of development.

If the base of your pyramid is pear-shaped then you’re building a pear not a pyramid.

We have a huge country with a diverse population that includes high-priced (pay to play) youth leagues and low-priced pay to play youth leagues.  To capture players in the widest possible net I offer these thoughts:

  • Split our nation into development regions operating under the same guidelines, where those guidelines, assessed on a routine basis, ensure we are doing what we say we are going to do.
  • Create teams, at all age groups, and have those teams compete against each other to represent the nation.   Do not split up ‘winning’ youth regional teams by taking one or two players from team a, team b, team c, and so on.
  • Reward the team that wins by selecting that team, plus some additional players, to represent the nation in that age group.

If you’re going to nurture a team culture you need to reward the team culture!

Said differently, de-centralize national team training to the regions – don’t have the players come to you have the coaches go to the players.

In addition to rewarding the players, by allowing the team to advance together, reward the coach of that team as well.

Build relationships with clubs, players, and teams:

What I find interesting (in this task) is the word ‘coaches’ is missing – it’s just as critical to establish relationships with coaches as it is clubs, players and teams.  It’s local coaches who know the players and whether they have the right mentality to play soccer at the highest level.

Facilitate internal player development:

Have a published vision, mission statement, goals and objectives.

For me, and my military training, the best way to facilitate anything is to develop a plan, communicate the plan, execute the plan, audit the plan, then identify areas for improvement, and then repeat.

So I’d submit you take these steps to facilitate internal player development:

  1. Select the style of play, (identify attainable goals and measurable objectives)
  2. Communicate that style across the organization,
  3. Execute it in training,
  4. Measure it for success in games, and
  5. Improve as needed – part of that improvement might mean updating goals and objectives.

Lead the hiring process and serve as counsel for head coach:

  • Now that you’ve established the style of play and the infrastructure needed to support the head coach, hire the head coach.
  • My guess is the field of selections will be narrowed to hiring an American.
  • I’m not sure I agree but if interested in hiring an American you may find this article of interest:  Who should Head Coach the #USMNT?  (this article was written last year – now that Jesse Marsch has moved to Europe it’s unlikely he’ll be available.)
  • I’d offer we want someone who shows a history of earning points against teams whose tactics are known as well as unknown (as in those in CONCACAF and those outside CONCACAF).

In Closing:

I am available and would love to work with US Soccer to help make us one of the greatest national teams in the world…

To have a vision where we aren’t striving to win the World Cup is nothing less than accepting we’ll be mediocre forever.

Best, Chris

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